Archives for category: Honor Roll

This is a thrilling story, reported by The Intercept.

THE NATIONWIDE CAMPAIGN to stifle discussions of race and gender in public schools through misinformation and bullying suffered a reversal in Idaho on Monday, when a high school senior vocally opposed to book bans and smears against LGBTQ+ youth took a seat on the Boise school board.

The student, Shiva Rajbhandari, was elected to the position by voters in Idaho’s capital last week, defeating an incumbent board member who had refused to reject an endorsement from a local extremist group that has harassed students and pushed to censor local libraries.

Rajbhandari, who turned 18 days before the election, was already well-known in the school district as a student organizer on climate, environmental, voting rights, and gun control issues. But in the closing days of the campaign, his opponent, Steve Schmidt, wasendorsed by the far-right Idaho Liberty Dogs, which in response helped Rajbhandari win the endorsement of Boise’s leading newspaper, the Idaho Statesman.

Rajbhandari, a third-generation Idahoan whose father is from Nepal, was elected to a two-year term with 56 percent of the vote.

In an interview, Rajbhandari told The Intercept that although he had hoped people would vote for him rather than against his opponent — “My campaign was not against Steve Schmidt,” he said — he was nonetheless shocked that Schmidt did not immediately reject the far-right group’s endorsement. “I think that’s what the majority of voters took issue with,” Rajbhandari said.

The Idaho Liberty Dogs, which attacked Rajbhandari on Facebook for being “Pro Masks/Vaccines” and leading protests “which created traffic jams and costed [sic] tax payers money,” spent the summer agitating to have books removed from public libraries in Nampa and Meridian, two cities in the Boise metro area.

But, Rajbhandari said, “that’s the least of what they’ve done. Last year, there was a kid who brought a gun to Boise High, which is my school, and he got suspended and they organized an armed protest outside our school.”

Rajbhandari, who started leading Extinction Rebellion climate protests in Boise when he was 15, is familiar with the group’s tactics. “We used to have climate strikes, like back in ninth grade, and they would come with AR-15s,” he said, bringing rifles to intimidate “a bunch of kids protesting for a livable future.”

So when the Idaho Liberty Dogs called on Boise voters to support Schmidt — and a slate of other candidates for the school board who, ultimately, all lost — Rajbhandari told me he texted his rival to say, “You need to immediately disavow this.”

“This is a hate group,” Rajbhandari says he told Schmidt. “They intimidate teachers, they are a stain on our schools, and their involvement in this election is a stain on your candidacy.” Schmidt, however, refused to clearly reject the group, even after the Idaho Liberty Dogs lashed out at a local rabbi who criticized the endorsement by comparing the rabbi to Hitler and claiming that he harbored “an unrelenting hatred for white Christians.”

While the school board election was a hyperlocal one, Rajbhandari is aware that the forces he is battling operate at the state and national level. “Idaho is at the center of this out-of-state-funded far-right attack to try to undermine schools, with the end goal of actually abolishing public education,” Rajbhandari told me. “There’s a group, they’re called the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and they actually control a lot of the political discourse in our legislature. Their primary goal is to get rid of public education and disburse the money to charter schools or get rid of that funding entirely.”

For his courage and candor, he won the endorsement of The Idaho Statesman.

This is a remarkable young man with a bright future ahead of him. I am happy to add him to the honor roll of this blog.

Read the rest of the story by opening the link. Rajbhandari is a force to be reckoned with. He is a good omen of the bright, dedicated young people who stand up for their teachers and for environmental activism, who fight for gun control and against censorship. Best wishes to him!

The superintendent of schools in Granbury, Texas, made clear that he didn’t want any books about LGBT characters or LGBT issues in the school library. He agreed with the angry conservatives who showed up at school board meetings to demand book-banning.

Superintendent Jeremy Glenn has previously emphasized to the district’s librarians that their community was “very, very conservative” and that any school employee who does not possess conservative beliefs “better hide it.” While he started by saying he didn’t care if the books were about homosexuality or heterosexuality, he spoke explicitly about banning books with LGBTQ content.

“And I’m going to take it a step further with you. There are two genders. There’s male, and there’s female. And I acknowledge that there are men that think they’re women. And there are women that think they’re men. And again, I don’t have any issues with what people want to believe, but there’s no place for it in our libraries.”

But then a parent with a child in the Granbury schools got up and pointed out that the folks who were complaining the loudest did not have any children in the schools. And she let them have it for their effort to impose their religion on her child’s public school.

Adrienne Quinn Martin went to the podium and let it rip.

“We know that books are continuing to be purged. We know student library aides have been banned. We know that a group of non-parents have pushed for these removals and continue to do so,” she began. “So, being a taxpayer does not grant special privileges over students, staff, and parents. I do not want random people with no education background or experience determining what books my child can read, what curriculum they learn, and what clubs they can join.”

“Just because you can get up at every meeting and rant and rave does not give you authority over my child’s education.”

“Your personal religious beliefs, people in this room and on this board, should not have an effect on my child’s education either. Our school are not to be used for personal political agendas and our children are here for education, not religious indoctrination,” she told the room as she looked various board members and attendees directly in the eye.

“I implore the board to put an end to attempts to appease these extremists. Focus on retaining staff, providing excellent public education and a safe and welcoming learning space for all students. The speakers speaking about what great Christians they are? Great. Go tell your pastor. Our schools are not your church.”

And as the room erupted in applause for her bold speech, Martin gathered up her papers and, with a nod, left the podium. The superintendent did not reply.

If you want to see her speech, it’s on her Twitter account @Mrsamartini

For her courage and common sense, I add her to the honor roll of this blog.

I wrote recently about Amanda Jones, the librarian in Louisiana who is fighting back against censorship and harassment in court.

One of our regular readers said she belongs on the honor roll of this blog. He’s right.

Amanda Jones joins the honor roll for her courage and integrity in fighting censorship!

Her GoFundMe page is raising money for her legal defense. Consider helping her fight for free thought!

Have you lost faith in our elected officials? Let me introduce you to my personal hero. Rosa DeLauro. I have met with her several times, and she was always attentive and thoughtful. I love her values, and I love her too. It’s a very small tribute to this great woman, but I take this opportunity to add her to the blog’s honor roll for standing up forcefully to the bullying of the charter lobby.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is one of the most powerful members of Congress. She is a Democrat from Connecticut. She is an outstanding liberal who fights for children and working people.

Please read her bio.

Rosa DeLauro is the Congresswoman from Connecticut’s Third Congressional District, which stretches from the Long Island Sound and New Haven, to the Naugatuck Valley and Waterbury. Rosa serves as the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee and sits on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, and she is the Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where she oversees our nation’s investments in education, health, and employment.

At the core of Rosa’s work is her fight for America’s working families. Rosa believes that we must raise the nation’s minimum wage, give all employees access to paid sick days, allow employees to take paid family and medical leave, and ensure equal pay for equal work. Every day, Rosa fights for legislation that would give all working families an opportunity to succeed.

Rosa believes that our first priority must be to strengthen the economy and create good middle class jobs. She supports tax cuts for working and middle class families, fought to expand the Child Tax Credit to provide tax relief to millions of families, and introduced the Young Child Tax Credit to give families with young children an economic lift.

Rosa has also fought to stop trade agreements that lower wages and ships jobs overseas, while also protecting the rights of employees and unions. She believes that we need to grow our economy by making smart innovative investments in our infrastructure, which is why she introduced legislation to create a National Infrastructure bank.

Rosa is a leader in fighting to improve and expand federal support for child nutrition and for modernizing our food safety system. She believes that the U.S. should have one agency assigned the responsibility for food safety, rather than the 15 different agencies that lay claim to different parts of our food system. Rosa fights against special interests, like tobacco and e-cigarettes, which seek to skirt our public health and safety rules.

As the Chair dealing with appropriations for Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education, Rosa is determined to increase support for education and make college more affordable for more American students and their families. She is also fighting to protect the Affordable Care Act so that all Americans have access to affordable care. Rosa strongly believes in the power of biomedical research and she is working to increase funding so that we can make lifesaving breakthroughs in science and medicine.

Rosa believes that we have a moral obligation to our nation’s veterans and their families, and her concern for these heroes extends to both their physical and mental well-being. Rosa supports a transformation in how the Department of Veterans Affairs is funded, including advanced appropriations for health services, to ensure its fiscal soundness; and she successfully championed legislation to guarantee that troops deploying to combat theaters get the mental health screening they need both before and after deployment, as well as championed legislation that now provides assistance to today’s Post-9/11 veterans choosing to pursue on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.

Rosa belongs to 62 House caucus groups and is the co-chair of the Baby Caucus, the Long Island Sound Caucus, and the Food Safety Caucus.

Soon after earning degrees from Marymount College and Columbia University, Rosa followed her parents’ footsteps into public service, serving as the first Executive Director of EMILY’s List, a national organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in elected office; Executive Director of Countdown ’87, the national campaign that successfully stopped U.S. military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras; and as Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd. In 1990, Rosa was elected to the House of Representatives, and she has served as the Congresswoman from Connecticut’s Third Congressional District ever since.

Rosa is married to Stanley Greenberg. Their children—Anna, Kathryn, and Jonathan Greenberg—all are grown and pursuing careers. Rosa and Stan have six grandchildren, Rigby, Teo, Sadie, Jasper, Paola and Gus.

Download Congresswoman DeLauro’s Biography

Download Congresswoman DeLauro’s Official Photo

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and I in 2018: My hero.

Karen Francisco is editorial page editor of The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. Before that, she was a member of the editorial board. After 40 years in journalism, she is retiring.

Francisco has been a stalwart supporter of public schools and an eloquent critic of privatization.

Indiana was once a state known for its devotion to its public schools, which are the heart of their communities.

Karen Francisco upheld that proud tradition when she exposed entrepreneurs, grifters, religious groups eager for public funding, and other looters of public funding.

Although it is a small gesture, I add Karen Francisco to the blog’s Honor Roll.

I met her when I visited Fort Wayne about ten years ago, and we sat down for a long and animated conversation about the invasion of Indiana by privatizers intent on ripping off taxpayers and communities. My dear friends, retired teachers Phyllis Bush and Donna Roof, first brought us together.

In her last editorial, she urged readers not to fall for the extremists running for office, but to vote for “the quiet and thoughtful voices” that want to bring people together.

Indianans will miss her.

All of us who believe that public schools belong to the public will miss her too!

In April, when I was scheduled to have open heart surgery, I asked a number of friends to write something original for the blog to keep it alive in my absence.

Karen Francisco wrote this one, which I scheduled on the day of my surgery, April 8, called “Why I Fight to Save Public Schools.”

Why I fight to save public schools

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor, The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette

There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in which an airplane passenger looks out the window to see a monster dismantling the aircraft engine. His terror escalates when he realizes he’s the only one who can see it happening.

There have been many occasions over the past two decades where I have felt like William Shatner’s character in that classic episode: Why don’t people realize public education is being dismantled in front of their own eyes?  

That’s my motivation for fighting for public schools.  People must understand what’s at risk.

It was as a parent that I had my first glimpse of the destruction underway. On a back-to-school night in September of 2000, I listened as a middle school math teacher complained that he would not be introducing any new material until the state’s standardized tests were administered.  He had been instructed by the administration to spend the first six weeks of the school year reviewing fifth-grade math lessons to bolster performance on the tests.  I instantly knew why my then-sixth-grader was, for the first time ever, complaining he was bored in school.

As an opinion journalist, I have opportunities other parents don’t have to question elected officials. When our editorial board met the next week with the Indiana superintendent of public instruction, I recounted how my children were spending so much time reviewing past lessons, and I asked Dr. Suellen Reed why so much emphasis was being placed on standardized testing.  

She launched into the accountability talking points I could eventually recite by heart. It was my first clue that not everyone saw the damage I sensed was beginning to occur. A costly scheme to label public schools with failing grades would help convince taxpayers and parents that children from low-income households needed vouchers to escape those schools. 

To her credit, Reed would be among the first of Indiana’s elected officials to acknowledge where high-stakes testing was headed, but her resistance cost her the position she held for four terms.  The governor wanted a superintendent supportive of his privatization agenda, so he tapped Tony Bennett, an affable high school basketball coach with a newly earned superintendent’s license. Together, they pushed through massive charter school expansion and a voucher school program. When he signed the bill, Gov. Mitch Daniels literally gave it a kiss.

I am fortunate to work for a publisher who is a strong supporter of public education, so our editorial pages became a persistent voice challenging Indiana’s unbridled rush to privatization, and I was eager to write editorials and bylined columns about what was happening all around us. The governor’s press secretary called my editor to complain after I served on a panel at a public education advocacy event. On a visit to our newsroom, Bennett told me he thought of me as one of those angry parents screaming at the coach from the stands. 

Unfortunately, our editorial voice was about as effective as one of those basketball parents. The vast majority of our readers and area lawmakers were either supportive of the far-ranging privatization effort or silent.  It would have been easy to give in to the complaints from some readers that our editorial board was wrong to oppose school vouchers, if not for the voices of educators and academics.  

“The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” by the esteemed proprietor of this blog, was a revelation. I had the opportunity to interview Diane about the book and later to meet with her when she delivered a lecture at our regional university campus. Her address energized a growing community of ed reform critics. including Phyllis Bush, a retired Fort Wayne teacher who galvanized a group of educators under the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. In West Lafayette, Indiana, Superintendent Rocky Killion teamed with Steve Klink, a staunch public education supporter, to produce  “Rise Above the Mark,” a 2014 documentary that was an early warning cry about the growing obsession with testing and its detrimental effects on education. The Indiana Coalition for Public Education joined the fight. Its board now includes three of the four former Indiana state superintendents, with Bennett being the exception.

I wish I could say Indiana has seen some success in fighting off the privatization monster, but that’s far from the truth. More than $1 billion has now flowed to private and parochial schools through the voucher program, with no accountability.  A scandal involving a virtual charter school cost taxpayers at least $85 million, with seemingly no concern from lawmakers or taxpayers. In the current legislative session, the Republican supermajority is throwing everything at school choice: income limits that make vouchers available to wealthy families, ESAs, full funding for online-only schools and more.

There was a time when newspaper editorial boards could move mountains. As my industry has withered, that is no longer the case. But I’m taking heart this year in a growing number of voices questioning the support of private and parochial schools at the expense of Indiana public schools. It seems like there are now many of us aware of the destruction and determined to stop the monster before it sends public education crashing to the ground. 

Jan Resseger writes here about Montana Senator Jon Tester’s deep and well-grounded belief in public education. He says that Democrats would have greater success in red states if they talked about the importance of public schools and the elites who are trying to privatize them.

Think about it. The vast majority of students in the United States attend public schools even when school choice is offered to them. Only 6 percent choose to attend charter schools; about 2 percent use vouchers. By now we know that neither charter schools nor vouchers offer a better education than democratically controlled public schools. Yet the billionaires continue to fund failure.

I hereby add Senator Jon Tester to the blog’s honor roll of champions of public education.

Resseger writes:

In mid-December, the NY Times‘ Jonathan Martin interviewed Montana Senator Jon Tester about his new book, Grounded: A Senator’s Lessons on Winning Back Rural America. Tester, a Democrat and U.S. Senator in his third term, represents a deep red state.

Tester tells Martin: “Democrats can really do some positive things in rural America just by talking about infrastructure and what they’re doing for infrastructure, particularly in the area of broadband. And then I would say one other policy issue is how some Republicans want to basically privatize public education. That is very dangerous, and I think it’s a point that people don’t want to see their public schools close down in Montana…”

Many hope President Joe Biden’s administration will significantly reshape federal education policy. During last year’s campaign for President, Biden, the candidate, declared a public education agenda that contrasts sharply with what happened to federal policy in public education beginning in the 1990s and culminating in the 2002 No Child Left Behind and later in 2009 in Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top.  Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire describe the past couple of decades: “Together, led by federal policy elites, Republicans and Democrats espoused the logic of markets in the public sphere, expanding school choice through publicly funded charter schools. Competition, both sides agreed, would strengthen schools.  And the introduction of charters, this contingent believed, would empower parents as consumers….”

Now with Biden’s election, many are looking for a turn by prominent Democrats back to the urgent needs of the public schools as a new COVID-19 recession compounds funding problems lingering in state budgets from the Great Recession a dozen years ago and as school privatization through charter school expansion and vouchers continues to thrust public schools deeper into fiscal crisis. Senator Jon Tester believes Democrats can rebuild support in rural America by attending to the needs of rural public education.

Tester’s new book folds policy ideas into memoir, with the back story a tribute to small town public schooling.  An indifferent high school student, Tester was encouraged by a debate coach, “who taught me how to articulate political arguments” and “taught us how to structure speeches to build an arc of suspense. He taught us the importance of clarity and simple language.”  Tester was elected student body president at Big Sandy High School: “For Government Day, on behalf of Big Sandy’s students, I invited one of our area’s most familiar elected leaders to visit with us about his long career in public service… Senator James was a tall, soft-spoken old farmer who accepted my invitation graciously and visited with us Big Sandy students for the better part of a day. He made the art and war of state politics sound fun.”

A trumpet player and college music major, Tester taught elementary school music at F.E. Miley Elementary School but was forced to resign when the paltry salary, even on top of what he could earn from farming, made it impossible for his family to get by. Tester ran for the local board of education and served for nearly a decade, including stints as vice chair and chair: “To this day, I’m asked about my most difficult job in politics. Without a doubt, my answer is the nine years I spent on the Big Sandy school board; it seemed everyone had strong opinions about public school policies, disciplinary actions, money, pay, taxes, ethics, graduations, grades, teacher performance, coaches, bullies, scholarships—it was a nine-year roller-coaster ride, and I loved every twist and turn.”

There is more. Open the link and read the rest of her piece about this wonderful Senator from Montana.

Dr. Jennifer McCormick, state superintendent of education in Indiana, is a hero of public education. She has steadfastly sided with public schools and defied her own party’s embrace of charters and vouchers.

Blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports that Superintendent McCormick has endorsed Democratic candidates who support public schools instead of members of her own party aligned with the Mitch Daniels-Mike Pence privatization agenda.

Hinnefeld writes:

There was a time when Indiana Republicans supported public schools; at least, they supported their local public schools. The shift came in 2011, when Gov. Mitch Daniels got the GOP-controlled legislature to adopt school vouchers and expand charter schools. Today, many Hoosier Republicans have come very close to embracing the late economist Milton Friedman’s vision of a “universal” voucher program of unrestricted state support for private schools.

But McCormick, former superintendent of Indiana’s Yorktown school district, has been an outspoken advocate for public schools. Every time she spoke out for public school districts, you could see Republicans edging further away. When she announced in 2018 that she wouldn’t seek re-election, she implied that she was being elbowed aside. Legislators promptly changed the law so Indiana’s governor will appoint the state’s next chief education officer, starting in 2021.

Yes, support for public schools used to be bipartisan. Indiana has a long tradition of valuing public schools. But party leaders followed the Pied Piper, Milton Friedman, and determined to promote private school choice while defunding the public schools that enroll the vast majority of the state’s children.

Meanwhile, Hinnefeld writes, McCormick has endorsed Democrats because they, like her, believe in the importance of public schools.

I hereby add Jennifer McCormick to the Honor Roll of the blog, for her principled support of public schools and the common good and for her uncommon courage.

Steve Hinnefeld writes here about a rare act of courage in a red state. Indiana State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick defied Betsy DeVos and has refused to hand out money from the CARES Act to private schools, without regard to need.

Superintendent McCormick told DeVos to stuff it. For her courage and independence, she goes on the blog’s honor roll.

Hinnefeld writes:

The good news: In Indiana, at least, public school districts won’t need to worry about Betsy DeVos diverting their anticipated funding to private schools.

DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, may still succeed in her scheme to use the act to boost funding for even the wealthiest private schools. But the Indiana Department of Education will make up any funds that are lost to public schools.

“The CARES Act was intended to assist those most in need …,” Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Jennifer McCormick told school officials. “COVID-19 has affected everyone, but not equally. It is my responsibility and IDOE’s obligation to ensure those most in need receive the appropriate support.”

The CARES Act, signed into law in late March, provides $215 million to Indiana to help public school districts and charter schools cover costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The act says the funds should be allocated in the same manner as annual Title I grants, with more money for high-poverty schools.

Public school districts must share some of their Title I funds to provide “equitable services” in local private schools, with the amount based on the number of students from low-income families enrolled in the private schools.

But DeVos, in guidance issued in early May, said that CARES Act funding for private schools should be based on their total enrollment, not their enrollment of poor students: presumably a private school with zero poor students would qualify for as much money as a private school where all students are poor.

The guidance was nonbinding; states could ignore it, and Indiana did.

DeVos then doubled down, issuing a rule that would severely restrict how public school districts can use CARES Act funding if they don’t follow her guidance. The rule would have the force of law – if it’s legal. Several states, school districts, parents and the NAACP have sued, arguing that it isn’t.

Meanwhile, the school year is starting, and school districts need to know how much money they can spend. To stave off the uncertainty, the Indiana Department of Education says it will use its own share of CARES Act funds to offset any money that school districts lose, should DeVos prevail in court.

Hooray for State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick of Indiana!

She rejected Betsy DeVos’ guidance to share CARES relief funding between public and private schools.

No wonder Republicans are planning to get rid of her and replace her with an appointed state superintendent whom they can control, on behalf of charter schools and voucher schools.

The state education department estimates that if they followed DeVos’ plan, poor kids in public schools would lose more than $15 million to private schools.

Jennifer McCormick joins the honor roll of this blog for saying no to zdeVos and the right wing bullies who lead Indiana.

Eric (Chaz) Chasanoff died of COVID-19 at the age of 69. He was a greatly admired high school teacher and blogger. He started his blog “Chaz’s School Daze” in 2006 in response to the oppressive policies of the Bloomberg-Klein regime. He was an inspiration to other teachers and bloggers, including me.

The UFT honored him as a teacher and a fearless activist.

This was his assessment of the legacy of Joel Klein.

Here are his prescient thoughts on the failure of de Blasio’s chancellor to clean house and get rid of the Klein hires.

Here he is on Bloomberg’s failed policies.

He wrote this post a few weeks before he died.

I urge you to browse his blog. His was a strong, fearless, independent voice. He will be missed.

Sadly, with condolences to his family, friends and former colleagues, I add Chaz Chasanoff to this blog’s honor roll. A teacher who loved teaching, a fearless and relentless advocate for students and teachers. A teacher who spoke truth to power. A man of principle.